Film Review: 12 Monkeys (1995)

Twelve Monkeys is a story about the world after a viral plague kills 6 billion people in 1996. The time travel story jumps between the 1990s before the pandemic and decades into the future. The future is run by strange scientists who hope to track down the virus’ origin. They send James Cole (Bruce Willis) back in time with a mission to gather information.

Another protagonist in the movie is the psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe). She is interested in the history of people who present a Cassandra complex. The Cassandra myth describes someone who knows the future but cannot do anything to change it. She wrote a book documenting examples of such people appearing in the past.

She is unfazed when she meets Cole who has the same outlook. She believes that he is mentally ill and she first meets him in her psychiatric hospital in 1990. She tries to maintain a clinical and objective interest in Cole. Cole vanishes for several years after his first hospital stay. He meets her a few years later and he kidnaps her for several days. Much of the story takes place during that kidnapping as she learns more about Cole’s remarkable story.

The future scientists are interested in a mysterious Army of the Twelve Monkeys which their surveillance indicates is responsible for the virus’ release. The Army of the Twelve Monkeys was led by Jeffrey Goines, played by Brad Pitt. His wannabe insurgents appear to be central actors in the plague because Goines father is a biologist studying deadly viruses. However, the exact role of Goines’ team is unclear until the end of the film. Goines and Cole meet when he shows Cole around the psych ward in 1990.

Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt provide excellent performances in the film. Willis portrays Cole as disoriented by time travel who does not know whether he is delusional or a “volunteer” traveling back in time on behalf of the scientists. He clearly demonstrates the sense of confusion and helplessness that his character experienced. Pitt portrays Goines as privileged, crazy and unpredictable with many goofy antics. Often institutionalized, Goines acts paranoid, manic and defiant. While in the hospital in 1990, he has a wild pillow escapade to help Cole escape. Goines has boundless energy and Pitt plays him very convincingly. Gradually Goines’ friends in the Army of the Twelve Monkeys realize he is unhinged and that his plans are going to end badly.

Review: Ad Astra (2019)

A Rocketship
Ad Astra, (To the Stars), is a space epic that often features Brad Pitt’s face. Unfortunately, he isn’t asked to smile much.

Two ongoing motifs are remarks about the exceptionally low heart rate of Pitt’s character and agency-required monologue psychological evaluations. Roy McBride’s remarks are used as a cue to the audience into his mental state. After all, there is little dialog to allow his character to be built up more naturally. No other character is important enough for that.

Central to the story is a classified “Lima” project. Despite the secrecy surrounding it, many people that McBride meets have more information for him. The project was led by Roy McBride’s missing father, the hero H. Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones. This connection provides an evolving emotional impetus for the story.

Ad Astra has a dystopian projection of how terrestrial nations deal with the resources of space. On the moon, each nation has staked out a claim that leaves a dangerous no-mans-land between their territories. Space travel has become a commercial venture, but SpaceCom seems to consider it secondary to their secret intrigues.

Since it’s a Hollywood movie, I didn’t expect the science to be very hard or precise, so I was willing to suspend disbelief for a lot. Yet, one horribly weak plot point struck me. Landing on the near side of the moon and driving to a base on the far side is hard to defend. However, the situation gave some action to a story that is heavy on cerebral pursuits. (See the psychological evaluations.)

The story is straightforward to describe. It’s hard to say much about the story without dropping spoilers. With a few nodes of action with slower stretches between them, the story would need expansion to make a novel.

I’m glad I saw the film on IMAX so that I could feast my eyes on the beautiful set development. I really appreciated the sonic environment that the movie possesses as well.